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Taxes, Trump, Romney, Hatch, Huntsman: hot politics in December

President-elect Donald Trump looks on as Mitt Romney walks from Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, after meeting.
President-elect Donald Trump looks on as Mitt Romney walks from Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, after meeting.
Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

The election is over and cold winter weather is here, but politics in Utah continues to run hot. We explore holiday-season political issues.

Many of the state's top business and community leaders (i.e. Gail Miller, Scott Anderson, Ron Jibson, Lane Beattie, Nolan Karras, etc.) announced a new 2018 ballot initiative to raise taxes for schools. Our Schools Now seeks to increase state income taxes to 5.875 percent from 5 percent to add almost $800 million a year to Utah public schools and colleges. With so much horsepower behind this effort, can it succeed?

Pignanelli: “Democracy is more than a ballot box.” — Mohamed ElBaradei

Initiatives and referenda provide a tremendous vehicle for citizens to engage in public policy decisions. However, they are disadvantaged by cost, burdensome regulations and rare uses of lobbyists (a true tragedy).

The Count My Vote petition endeavor resulted in the famous compromise of SB54. The potential of a legislative tax increase to counter Our Schools Now is as likely as President-elect Donald Trump appointing Nancy Pelosi to his cabinet. So this group will need to overcome the tremendous obstacles for initiatives (10 percent of voters in 26 of 29 Senate districts signing petitions, requirements for signature gatherers, etc.) just to get on the ballot. The 25,000 teachers, organized through the Utah Education Association and other organizations, will be invaluable. But supporters must convince a majority of voters to voluntarily increase their income taxes.

Fortunately, efforts to pass and defeat such a proposal will foster vigorous discussions and resolution on a decades-old issue. Utahns are about to receive an education on their desire for a tax increase for … education.

Webb: Ballot initiatives are always enormously expensive and very difficult, but the Our Schools Now group can get it done. Certainly, our schools need the money. If you factor in demographics, Utah’s education performance is mediocre.

What’s the difference between an average Utah school district and a top-in-the-nation school district in Connecticut? Is it that our children are stupider? Is it that our teachers and administrators are not as hardworking or dedicated? Is it that our parents don’t care? Is it that our curriculum and teaching methodologies are inferior?

No. The difference is clear: We spend less per pupil than any state in the country. We can’t afford the personnel and programs that boost a system from mediocre to excellent. We simply can’t become a top-10 education system spending the amount we do. If we combine our dedicated teachers and parents, our terrific young people and more money for tried-and-true programs and resources, we can prepare our students for jobs in the high-tech, whirlwind world they will be entering. If we want to maintain Utah’s strong economy and if we want our young people to be gainfully employed, this is an investment we must make.

The 2018 U.S. Senate race already looms large. Will, and should, Sen. Orrin Hatch pursue an eighth term?

Pignanelli: A high priority for Utah's senior senator is needed tax reform — an arduous goal. So it is a shrewd maneuver to avoid lame-duck status as long as possible. While arguments abound over the senator’s age and length of service, there are no disputes he will employ a scrappy, energetic, tough campaign if another term is pursued (an absolute necessity for him to prevail). Potential contenders understand this and hope the senator chooses preserving his legacy through voluntary retirement.

Webb: Hatch is one of the three or four most powerful people in Congress. He will have enormous influence on many of the nation’s most critical problems and opportunities, especially as the Trump administration pursues its agenda and makes nominations to the federal court system, including the Supreme Court. He has justification to run for another term.

Carefully watching Hatch’s decision is Jon Huntsman Jr., who would receive a lot of support among Democrats and independents.

I’m guessing Hatch will run again. Anyone interested in the race must make a decision very soon, in the next few months, to gear up for a tough, statewide 2018 campaign.

Last Thursday, when this column was written, Mitt Romney was still sitting by the phone, dolled up in his prom dress, awaiting an invitation from President-elect Donald Trump to the secretary of state ball. Events may have overtaken this question, but beyond the weirdness of this dalliance between two men who vilified each other during the campaign, will the offer be made and will/should Romney accept it?

Pignanelli: Seven and a half billion humans are in for an interesting four-year ride as the most powerful member of the species cannot resist outlandish comments and settling scores in public with offenders. The smooth Romney as chief diplomat will help soothe ruffled feathers in the world’s capitals. However, Trump is shamelessly trolling Mitt and will eventually pick another on his list.

Webb: Romney is obviously a patriotic fellow who feels a calling to serve his country. I believe it’s 50/50 Trump will select him. But the two are near-opposites in demeanor, behavior and style. Trump’s free-form, theatrical governing pattern is so erratic that it might drive Romney nuts. Conducting foreign policy by tweet wouldn’t seem to be Romney’s technique.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com.